Favourable spring weather has delivered a high quality berry crop this year says managing director Oli Pascall

Oli Pascall

Clock House Farm’s managing director Oli Pascall

How is the summer fruit season shaping up at Clock House Farm? What effect has the wet spring and recent hot spell had on the berry crop?

Oli Pascall: The quality of the fruit is looking good. Volumes are normal but we are not anticipating any bumper yields for 2023. The slow ripening of the berries in spring has delivered some high-quality produce, but there has definitely been a later start to the season. In summary, maybe we won’t have high volumes but the harvest will represent a really good crop in terms of quality.

Now that the sun is out, has demand picked up?

OP: As soon as the weather picks up it is natural for consumers to consider incorporating more fresh berries into their diet – and of course seasonal events such as Wimbledon are a great reminder of the important role that soft fruit plays in the traditional British social scene.

It also helps that during the summer months, there is a stronger focus on appearance ahead of the key holiday season and berries represent a healthy, low-calorie option for anyone who is looking to make improvements to their diet.

How is the cost-of-living crisis impacting demand? Are you noticing a shift to more affordable alternatives?

OP: Well, it is certainly not helping to grow the season! Historically soft fruit has witnessed consistent growth due to an increased appetite for clean, natural foods with proven health benefits. The cost-of-living crisis has slowed down growth, although there will always be a body of consumers who are unaffected by the rise in inflation.

What are the big challenges you face right now as a producer? Are high costs having a major impact on your business?

OP: As a producer there are myriad challenges we are facing right now. We are confident that labour supply to bring in the harvest is now resolved but this is at an inflated price. We’ve been hit by increasing costs across the supply chain – for example fuel, energy, fertilizer and transport – which results in a hike in production costs overall. But whilst retailers have increased the price in-store sadly this is not reflected in the cut that the grower receives.

What other news would you like to share with our readers?

OP: The current climate has dictated a need to focus only on medium-term investments and short-term investments have been curtailed unless they are business critical. Sustainability initiatives remain high on our agenda and we will continue to invest time and energy in Linton Growing, our containerised plant propagation business which enables us to grow all the plant stock for the farm (soft fruit plants as well as essential hedging and native British trees) rather than relying on any imports.

As well as supplying Clock House Farm, Linton Growing is able to extend this opportunity to other growers, providing them with access to superior quality plants that deliver in terms of yield, size, flavour and disease resistance, whilst also reducing the carbon footprint by sourcing domestically grown plants.

Our ground-breaking river heated production is now in full operation and reaping great rewards, both in terms of energy savings but also in improving our environmental responsibility credentials.